Questions Answered – January 2021

What Does It Mean to Judge?

Question: When can we and when can we not judge?

Answer: “Judge not, lest you be judged.” (Mt. 7:1) This text is the origin of much handwringing on the part of Christians about judging others. As a confessor, I have experienced many people who confess judging with the caveat we should not judge. The odd thing is that judgment is a part of reasoning.

In logic there are three acts of the mind: the concept, the judgment and the syllogism. One has union with an object outside oneself in the concept. This is determined to either be true or false based on the fact that it truly corresponds to the being of one thing and not another, say the difference between a dog and a cat. Two concepts are related to each other using the verb “to be” and this is the judgment. A cat is an animal, a cat is not an animal is a good example. Then several judgments are joined together to form syllogistic reasoning. All animals have sense knowledge; a cat is an animal, therefore a cat has sense knowledge. This is true or false depending on how the syllogism is formed and whether the premises are true. Jesus obviously cannot be referring to this sort of judgment when has admonishes to “judge not, lest you be judged.” The judgment referred to, then, is not in the theoretical realm but the practical one, and it is about human actions.

Here again, judgment is a natural and everyday activity. In order to do justice, we have to be able to judge what is right. Aquinas defines judgment in morals: “Judgment is primarily the definition or determinate of what is just.” (Summa Theologiae, II-II, 60, 1, ad corp.) The virtue of justice depends on a judge to pronounce judgment. This is especially true of the judgment of the judge who in court cases, for example, determines the nature of the law and the truth of the case. These judgments would be evil and unjust if they were done against the truth or beyond the power of a judge who had no jurisdiction on the case, or if they were based on slight evidence. The last is called rash judgment and is the judgment the Lord condemns.

Aquinas reasons that one can easily make mistakes in thinking. It is better to err on the side of presuming innocence because then the innocent are not unjustly punished. Were we to punish a man who was innocent, we would be acting unjustly, whereas if the man is guilty and we presume him innocent “only the quality of our judgment is at stake” (ST, II-II, 60, 4) and we do them no harm. The fact that mistakes can be made in these practical judgments is not a defect in our knowledge but due to the fact that the perfection of the intellect does not consist in making judgments in contingent individual cases.

As for rash judgment, this is to judge another from slight suspicion, which betrays more a lack of love toward others than a lack of truth. It is worth quoting his whole text on this matter. “Now there are three degrees of suspicion. The first degree is when a man begins to doubt of another’s goodness from slight indications. This is a venial and a light sin; for ‘it belongs to human temptation without which no man can go through this life,’ according to a gloss on 1 Corinthians 4:5, ‘Judge not before the time.’ The second degree is when a man, from slight indications, esteems another man’s wickedness as certain. This is a mortal sin, if it be about a grave matter, since it cannot be without contempt of one’s neighbor. Hence the same gloss goes on to say: ‘If then we cannot avoid suspicions, because we are human, we must nevertheless restrain our judgment, and refrain from forming a definite and fixed opinion.’ The third degree is when a judge goes so far as to condemn a man on suspicion: this pertains directly to injustice, and consequently is a mortal sin.” (ST, II-II, 60, ad corp) It is this last kind of judgment the Lord condemns and is a sin.

Did Christ Torture the Money Changers?

Question: The present catechism description of torture is so worded that it logically opposes Christ making a whip of cords with which he drove the money changers out of the Temple. Realizing that only the Latin version of the New Catechism has final authority in questions about meanings, nuances of versions in other languages, could it be that the possible confusion in the above quotation results from a mistranslation from the Latin original version into English?

Answer: The present Catechism defines sinful torture in this way in English: “Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2297) The Latin text is: “Cruciatus, qui physica vel morali utitur violentia ad confessiones extorquendas, ad culpabiles puniendos, ad adversarios terrendos, ad odium satiandum, observantiae personae et dignitati humanae est contrarius.” The English text in this regard faithfully renders the Latin text. So there is no problem with the translation.

As to the idea that this in some way contradicts physical punishment for evil of any sort, this would not seem indicated from the text itself. The Church obviously has in mind here not actions of corporal punishment done in moderation but actions which cause agony, such as those practiced under ancient law codes where confessions could be elicited by tortures like the rack. The Inquisition used these kinds of tortures occasionally, though modern research into the nature of the Inquisition notes this was done much more rarely than the civil order at the time. Both accepted confessions done under torture as proper jurisprudence. Yet even Aristotle was of the opinion that moral matters demand freedom of will from coercion. Therefore confessions elicited under torture, either mental or physical, are worthless.

In modern times, such tortures can include brainwashing, drug-induced pain, sleep deprivation, and a host of agonizing assaults on the psyche. All of these, especially in courts of law, would be assaults on human dignity and evidence obtained by such methods should be discounted. Exaggerated punishment in schools would be counter-indicated here, as would floggings to blood such as occurred in armies and navies of the past.

The Lord’s action in the Temple is not such extreme torture of physical or psychological pain. Rather it is the measured and reasoned application of corporal punishment for an offense against the law of God. The money changers had to change foreign currency into the Temple drachma so that animals used for sacrifices could be purchased. Like all money changers even to this day, they were not always honest. Also, the din of the animals and the market must have been extreme, as was the smell. This took place in the court of the Gentiles and further complicated matters by suggesting the Gentiles had no right to peaceful contemplation of the God of Israel, which directly contradicts the prophets. So this case in no sense can fall under the definition of torture in the Catechism.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

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  1. Avatar Tom Showerman says:

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  2. Avatar G. Poulin says:

    While rash judgment is certainly a bad thing, the problem with that take on Matthew 7:1 is that the text itself makes no reference to judging rashly. It seems rather to be focused on judging hypocritically, that is, condemning in another person that which the judger is even more guilty of. So “judge not lest you be judged” would appear to mean “don’t judge in such a way as to bring judgement down on yourself”.